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Right on Crime | April 23, 2015
“Public trust in the police is one of the most vital elements in a civilized society, but for many Americans, that trust has been undermined by a procedure called civil forfeiture.”
Last year in October, John Oliver took time on his show Last Week Tonight to talk about civil asset forfeiture. Using anecdotes, reports, and humor, he demonstrated the damage this program has done to the crucial trust in the police force. Watch the clip below.
Civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement to bring charges against inanimate objects – cash, houses, and vehicles – based solely on a preponderance of the evidence standard. Without charging the individual with a crime, police simply need to be able to articulate that the assets in question were more likely than not used in or proceeds of criminal behavior. Then the property is assumed to be guilty, unless the individual can prove otherwise in court.
“Recourse is so difficult that most people who have lost stuff to civil forfeiture, just choose to walk away, rather than fight.”
Oliver acknowledges the good intentions in civil asset forfeiture laws. They were originally intended to allow law enforcement to collect criminal proceeds from illegal activities such as drug dealing, and provide restitution to victims. However, this can still be done after a criminal conviction, or at least with a higher burden of proof on law enforcement.
Recently, New Mexico’s Republican Governor Susana Martinez signed civil asset forfeiture reforms into law.